This 32-year-old saves money on her travels by cat-sitting around the world
Madolline Gourley says she’s discovered a great money-saving strategy for traveling abroad – and it only takes 30 minutes of work a day.
The 32-year-old, based in Brisbane, Australia, travels the world to keep her house and her cat. In exchange for her half hour of work – which includes feeding, cuddling and cleaning the litter boxes – Gourley receives free housing. Over the past four years, she estimates she has saved around $28,000 in travel costs while visiting nearly 50 homes in Australia and the United States.
In 2017, Gourley was working under contract to write copy for Queensland state government websites when she heard that some of her colleagues were living rent-free by keeping a house, using an app called TrustedHousesitters. At the time, Gourley felt the need to travel – and didn’t see the point of looking at houses for free in Brisbane, where she already lived.
So she created a profile on the app, widened her search to all of Australia and the United States, and added her experience as a lifetime cat owner to her profile. Today, she also uses platforms like MindMyHouse, HouseCarers, Australian house keepers, Home Sitters America and House Sitters Canada to travel abroad, between and during free time from contractual editorial work.
Gourley documents his travels on a blog called One cat at a time and although her adventure in international cat-sitting involves a degree of wanderlust and spontaneity, she regards her experiences as practical – even if some of her friends find her adventures unusual.
“If you take out the fact that I’m from Australia, it’s not that different than a friend or neighbor watching your pet,” Gourley told CNBC Make It. “Their place is the only form of payment I receive.”
Planning and budgeting for international cat-sits
Gourley calculated her $28,000 figure — a conservative estimate, she says — by looking at nearby AirBnb and rental prices. For example, an average room in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood — where she stayed on her last trip — costs about $3,200 to rent per month, according to Zillow.
This recent trip was one of Gourley’s longest cat-sitting adventures to date: For 75 days, she stayed in nine homes and observed 15 cats in seven US cities, starting in Seattle and criss-crossing the country before ending in Portland, Oregon, she said.
Of course, travel involves expenses beyond accommodation. In total, Gourley estimates she spent about $7,200 on the trip, an average of $96 per day.
Round-trip airfare from Gourley to the United States. was a particularly expensive item, at $1,300. Her costs varied from city to city: During her 21 days in New York, for example, she spent $66 on transit passes, $100 on Lyfts, and $90 to see some local attractions — ultimately spending around $1,100 in the Big Apple, documents show. reviewed by CNBC Make It.
“I went to see the Moulin Rouge and the ticket was maybe $50 through a ticketing app, but my cocktail at the show ended up being $35,” Gourley says. “It’s ridiculous, but it’s not everyday you’re in New York for a Broadway show, and I don’t spend that much money every night of the week.”
Gourley says she doesn’t usually need a travel budget. Instead, she considers the money she makes from her annual tax returns — about $9,000 over the past two years, she says — to be her travel fund, supplementing with money from her jobs. contractors if necessary. (Tax returns are often relatively large in Australia due to the country’s high tax rate, as CNBC Make It reported in 2017.)
The rest of his paychecks are used to maintain his family life in Brisbane.
Navigate the industry
Ordinarily, Gourley says, she plans her trips well in advance – but Covid-19 has made the housesitting industry increasingly competitive. On her recent trip to the United States, she had to book a last-minute trip to Denver and Chicago to fill unusual gaps between other gigs.
“Over the past few years, many digital nomads have used housesitting sites, as sits can last up to six months or a year,” Gourley says. “I know someone who was looking to get her house serviced in Miami and got 40 requests. A few years ago she might have been lucky enough to get 10.”
Gourley says her experience caring for felines sets her profile apart, and she recommends voicing her pet preferences to anyone who wants to follow in her footsteps. She also says it helps to accumulate positive reviews on your profile locally before trying to find house sitting opportunities abroad.
As for what’s next, Gourley says she has no plans to slow down. Hopefully, she says, she can eventually keep cats in Canada, New Zealand and Asia. She currently has no plans to monetize her blog, saying the experience of being able to afford such frequent travel is enough.
“A couple of people have emailed me saying I should compile a book, and that makes me laugh,” Gourley says. “I’m still going to think about the idea, but I don’t want to invest weeks and months and put something together… It was a pretty cool experience and an opportunity to save a ton of money.”
Budget estimates for parts of Gourley’s journey have been calculated based on June 2022 conversion rates between the US dollar and the Australian dollar.
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